One day, long after the National Football League has finally abandoned football altogether and turned into a coast-to-coast string of peep shows, someone will make one of those 37-part made-for-TV movies about the Great Cheerleading War of 1978. They can call it Boots, the story of sexy, yet wholesome, young Linda Sue Ann Cheri Jo, who travels to her ancestral homeland in Dallas where she finds the secret to her past by unearthing the fossilized brassiere of her great-great-unbelievably-great-grandmommy, Dana Debbie Sue Tammy Lynn.
It's something the NFL ought to be thinking about as it boogies on down the road to perdition and Super Bowl XXX. Goodness knows, the only thing anybody talks about anymore is S-E-X and the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders. Just last week, Ann Landers had to contend with an enraged reader complaining about the trend toward "older, sexier, and more naked cheerleaders" in the NFL. "Talented baton twirlers and really good dancing...don't mean a thing," the infuriated correspondent said, asking Ann how she felt about such an "appalling commentary on American taste." How Ann felt was that such preferences were the "last gasps of a dying civilization."
Right. Certainly, whatever the Dallas cheerleaders started six years ago, with their plunging necklines and winking belly buttons, has spread through the rest of the NFL like a social disease. Which, of course, is exactly what a lot of people think it is. But as Vince Lombardi almost said, "Sinning isn't everything, it's the only thing."
The truth of the matter is it's hard to believe you could shake a "two bits, four bits" out of the dozen or so so-called cheerleading squads that have reared their lovely heads in the NFL in the last year or so. But never mind. They've got their vinyl boots and their pompons and Niagaras of blow-dried hair cascading down their backs, and you could just go to pep rallies and commit the cheers for Sunday's game to memory. Life is a series of small concessions, and this is one you can enjoy.
Recently Los Angeles Ram owner Carroll Rosenbloom proclaimed, "Cheerleaders are now an intrinsic part of the NFL." He said this about the same time Bill Allen, director of Miami's Dolphin Dolls, vouchsafed that "Cheerleading is becoming nothing more than a battle of belly buttons, busts and backsides," or words to that effect. If it follows that Allen's three B's are now at the heart of NFL efforts, then pro football must be just the thing for people who like a little sex with their violence.
Something is afoot. Last April 24, CBS' National Collegiate Cheerleading Championships went head-to-head with ABC's Monday Night Baseball, and won. The cheerleading show drew 37% of the viewing audience, baseball only 22%. And this is the National Pastime we're discussing here, not a couple of refugee jai alai guys on cable TV.
Moreover, last month in Chicago, 1,500 young women applied for 28 spots on the Chicago Honey Bears. Los Angeles recently selected 24 Ram Sundancers from a field of more than 800 candidates. In Baltimore the Colts have signed 45 girls to wear uniforms almost identical to those worn by the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders.
"Everyone is trying to out- Dallas Dallas," says Atlanta Falcon Assistant GM Curt Mosher. Indeed, the Cowboys are usually a year or so ahead of the rest of the league in everything, and cheerleading is no exception. It was back in 1972 that Dallas General Manager Tex Schramm professionalized his squad by hiring eight girls from the dance studio of choreographer Texie Waterman. Suzanne Mitchell, who came to the Cowboys in 1975 as Schramm's secretary and has since become the cheerleaders' full-time manager, agent and martinet, is now, more or less by default, the arbiter of taste and decorum for the whole league. "Obviously we don't put the girls in those uniforms to hide anything," says Mitchell. "Sports has always had a very clean, almost Puritanical aspect about it, but by the same token, sex is a very important part of our lives. What we've done is combine the two."
This state of affairs may be to some degree a result of the influence of television on sports. TV did not create the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders, but its unblinking eye drove the number of applicants for the 37 spots up from 250 in 1976 to 1,053 this year, and it is responsible for the recent demise of the Dolphin Dolls, a precision dance team of conservatively dressed teen-age girls. The Dolls had been with the Miami franchise since its inception in 1966, but choreographer Allen claims he was told twice by network cameramen that the Dolls wouldn't be shown on camera until they wore skimpier costumes. Now the Dolphins are going to older, sexier girls, who will be choreographed by the legendary June Taylor. The plan is to put them in bathing suits and have them cavort in an end zone around a pool containing the legendary Flipper.
With few exceptions, cheerleading for a pro football team is hard, demanding, underpaid work. Dallas cheerleaders get only $15 per game ($14.12 after taxes), must clean their own uniforms, attend innumerable practices (miss two and you're out), and be at the stadium two hours before each home game. Other teams pay even less and perks are minimal. Dallas may hold the record for penury by bringing their girls to New Orleans a few hours before the Super Bowl and sending them right home afterward on the pretext that there had been no hotel rooms available.